Many of you received a public relations notice from ONSWC. SCN is preparing a rebuttal to this publication. We found the statements in the publication to be misleading and absent of relevant facts. Below are our comments in response to the initial notice. Over the next couple of weeks we will include a rebuttal to the FAQ section.
1. “…have an opportunity to build a vibrant, state-of-the-art water reclamation system that will benefit the community and the environment.”
ONSWC is offering a quid pro quo deal to the residents of Briar Chapel– let us increase the capacity of the Briar Chapel Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) to a million gallons per day (regional plant for Chatham County) and we will upgrade the plant to address the failing operating conditions.
The WWTP permit for Briar Chapel issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) (Permit #28552), clearly states “The subject non-discharge facilities shall be effectively maintained and operated at all times so there is no discharge to surface waters, nor any contravention of groundwater or surface water standards. In the event the facilities fail to perform satisfactorily, including the creation of nuisance conditions due to improper operation and maintenance, or failure of the utilization areas to adequately assimilate the reclaimed water, the Permittee shall take immediate correction actions including Division required actions, such as the construction of additional or replacement wastewater treatment, disposal or utilization facilities.”
ONSWC needs to take immediate corrective action to address the continuing performance failures of the WWTP that have created and continue to create a nuisance condition for the residents of Briar Chapel.
2. Greater flexibility in when and how we use reclaimed water irrigation. Currently, some irrigation occurs because the system must get rid of a portion of its reclaimed water. The new system would reduce the reliance on the reclaimed irrigation system as the only discharge method for Briar Chapel’s reclaimed water.
Currently ONSWC does not use irrigation during the months of November through March to support the Briar Chapel WWTP. There is adequate capacity to store treated wastewater during the winter months. Please note they could water during the winter months if they chose to do so but because of concerns related to freezing lines they do not water during the winter season. We don’t need this “flexibility” for the Briar Chapel residents and in fact discharging this water into Jordan Lake violates the principles of our “green community”. This “flexibility” is only needed if ONSWC brings in waste from other communities and commercial developments.
The current Briar Chapel permit, clearly states “….to serve Briar Chapel Development, with no discharge of wastes to surface water”. When ONSWC makes the assertion that this will improve the conditions of Jordan Lake they fail to disclose relevant information as to WHY it will improve the conditions. It has absolutely nothing to do with Briar Chapel! Fearrington Village is discharging 270,000 GPD of treated waste water. It is our understanding, from meetings with Fearrington Village HOA board members, that the discharge from Fearrington Village exceeds the standards for nutrient levels by 10 times the allowable amount. Since 2018, the NCDEQ has issued 21 violation notices related to this discharge permit. This is a Fearrington Village problem. Don’t make it a Briar Chapel issue at the expense of the Briar Chapel residents.
The only benefactors would be ONSWC who wants to purchase the Fearrington Village WWTP increasing their customer base and revenue and Mr. Fitch who continues to operate a failing WWTP without investing capital to improve operations to meet required standards.
3. Improved water quality in Jordan Lake. The upgraded reclamation facility will clean water to a higher standard, which is good for Jordan Lake and the watershed per the recently enacted Jordan Lake Rules.
Briar Chapel does not discharge wastewater into Jordan Lake. The MBR technology is better at meeting the new North Carolina State standards on Nitrogen and Phosphorus that go into Lake Jordon but Briar Chapel does not discharge wastewater into Jordan Lake! We are a Non-Discharge irrigation system.
This is a benefit to Fearrington Village residents not a benefit to Briar Chapel residents! The Fearrington Village WWTP is currently discharging treated wastewater into Jordan Lake that does not meet regulatory standards. The Fearrington Village WWTP needs to be upgraded to resolve this non-compliance issue. ONSWC is proposing to upgrade the Briar Chapel plant to address the failing conditions of the Fearrington WWTP at the expense of Briar Chapel residents.
4. Current cost savings. The option proposed by ONSWC allows the water reclamation facility to be expanded to meet the needs of the community without raising Briar Chapel customer rates. All other options considered resulted in substantial increases in rates for the community.
In order for a utility to change rates, they need to put in a request via a “rate case” with the North Carolina Public Utility Commission. ALL rate changes must go thru a rigorous approval process to include public meetings and public staff review. Consumers have the opportunity to voice their opinions which the Public Utility Commission will take into consideration. Its purpose is to prevent utilities from changing their rates whenever they want, or increasing rates in an unreasonable manner. For ONSWC to arbitrarily make this assertion is grossly inappropriate and could be perceived as threatening.
Note that in the first sentence they refer to “Briar Chapel customer rates” and in the second sentence they refer to “rates for the community”. The Briar Chapel WWTP does not need to be upgraded to an MBR system. The upgrade is only necessary because ONSWC wants to bring in wastewater from other communities and then discharge into Jordan Lake. The existing plant simply needs to be operated with competence and commitment. Briar Chapel residents currently pay twice the amount of Fearrington Village residents for wastewater treatment services. It is our understanding that Fearrington Village rate increases are under a moratorium and that moratorium expires soon. ONSWC cannot impose a financial burden on the residents of Briar Chapel for the benefit of the residents in Fearrington Village. That would not be approved by the Utilities Commission.
ONSWC states “other options considered”. What were those options? ONSWC fails to provide the necessary information to support their statements and claims.
5. Helps Chatham County preserve its natural resources. By reducing the demand for potable water for landscape irrigation, Chatham County is able to stretch its available drinking water resources further. This allows Chatham County to defer future expansions and saves County residents money.
The Briar Chapel community has no plans to utilize potable water for irrigating common areas, parks, etc. If reclaimed water is not available there are other alternatives that could be considered such as retention ponds. There are also many landscaping alternatives currently being reviewed that would lower maintenance costs and the need for irrigation.